This story was originally published by High Country News.

It wasn’t immediately clear who challenged whom to a push-up contest at the Lewis County Pride festival in Centralia last June — the white supremacist or the Pride celebrant. It was a bright Saturday in the small southwestern Washington city, and the festival was in full swing at a brick plaza on Tower Avenue, the main street. Music blasted, people danced in rainbow tutus and rainbow hats and rainbow face paint; there was a drag performance, and across the plaza, large yellow umbrellas shaded tables. The theme was “Bee Yourself.” 

Kyle Wheeler, one of the festival’s co-organizers, wore an oversized straw hat with antennas on top. Someone pulled him aside and told him a group dressed in black was headed toward the festival. Wheeler looked down Tower: White supremacists were marching toward the festival from every direction. One flew a Nazi black sun flag. Others carried a banner proclaiming “DEGENERACY NOTHING TO BE PROUD OF.” They wore black shirts and brown khakis, and most had covered their faces with skull-printed balaclavas. Some shirts read “Might is Right.” 

“It was almost like a swarm of bees,” Wheeler recalled. Rainbow-clad Pride attendees bunched around the men in black, blocking the plaza with their bodies. The two groups traded insults. One white supremacist sneered that the people at Pride were so out of shape, they couldn’t do a push-up. 

That’s when, as Wheeler watched, a Pride-goer in a pink T-shirt and a white supremacist dropped to their hands on the warm pavement.

Wheeler looked down Tower: White supremacists were marching toward the festival from every direction.

A clear winner emerged: The Pride attendee quickened his pace, clapping between push-ups as the white supremacist crumpled. The Pride crowd cheered, dancing victoriously around the men. A remix of Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” blared. A woman twerked in front of the group’s banner, edging one man away with her butt. “Look at all these cowards with their masks!” another woman yelled, filming the black-clad men. The white supremacists began to trickle away, and the party resumed. 

But Centralia was not the only place in Lewis County where tensions were rising. Lewis is one of the most conservative counties in Washington: Though Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee won a third term handily, by roughly 13 percentage points statewide in 2020, 69.2% of voters here opted for his far-right Republican challenger.

Later that day in Chehalis, often called Centralia’s “Twin City,” the local Republican Party distributed literature and collected signatures opposing confidentiality for minors seeking gender-affirming care. A Pride-affiliated drag show was taking place a block away.

Tempers flared afterward. At a meeting on June 13, Republican County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock blamed her own party. “Last weekend, Neo-Nazis and leaders of the Lewis County Republican Party harassed Pride celebrants, ” she said. The groups were unaffiliated, but their intent was the same: to “intimidate a minority group,” she said.

During a Centralia City Council meeting that same day, people were visibly shaken by the hands-off approach taken by local law enforcement at Pride. “I’ve never felt so scared,” Usha Sahadeva-Brooks, a resident and community organizer, said.  A white business owner who was at work that day warned that bigotry like this was worrisome, especially given Centralia’s history. 

“I have deep roots in this place,” she said. “My great uncle was a logger and a Wobbly, so I’m familiar with the complex history of this place.”

Another Pride attendee told the council that she tried to flag down a police officer for help, but they just drove away. 

Police Chief Stacy Denham defended his department’s inaction. “This is kind of new for us,” he said. “We just didn’t see this coming.”

Wheeler didn’t buy it. “It’s not that he or his department didn’t see any of this coming, it’s that they keep continuing to look the other way rather than face it,” he told High Country News, noting previous attacks on queer spaces nationwide. “You can’t see something you don’t want to.”

Another Pride attendee told the council that she tried to flag down a police officer for help, but they just drove away.

Groups like the one that came to Centralia have been disrupting Pride festivals across the Northwest, from Missoula, to Spokane, to Oregon City. They belong to “Active Clubs”; the one in Centralia was the Evergreen Active Club. According to the Anti-Defamation League, they are white supremacist ultranationalist groups that “consider themselves vigilante soldiers standing guard against a perceived existential threat to their ‘white future.’” They emerged as state governments were flooded with Republican-backed anti-LGBTQ bills. Travis McAdam, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), agreed that this was no coincidence: As the Republican Party increasingly adopts extremist perspectives and pushes anti-LGBTQ legislation, that, in turn, “gives (extremists) ‘mainstream’ issues to use.” If people agree with Active Clubs on one issue, they might be open to hearing more.

At the City Council meeting, one official claimed that the Evergreen Active Club was made up of out-of-towners who’d chosen Centralia as a stage for their hate. “We can’t let that ideology have a foothold in this community,” he said. 

But bigotry had, in fact, already taken up literal real estate. That spring, a store called Kultur opened on Tower Avenue, amid the antique shops and restaurants that make up Centralia’s vibrant downtown. Kultur — German for “culture” — offers piano and songwriting lessons. It is also affiliated with the Asatru Folk Assembly, a whites-only religion that the SPLC has deemed a hate group.

And a look at the history of Centralia and the wider region shows that ideological extremism has century-old roots here. In 1919, a group of veterans attacked a labor union hall, and five people died in the aftermath. Locals celebrated the instigators as patriots and the unionists as anti-American troublemakers who deserved their fate — and that story has persisted for a hundred years. 

At a moment when diverging narratives have become central to debates over the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot — not to mention the 2024 presidential election — Centralia’s history shows what happens when a community indulges in historical amnesia. By distorting truth and turning a blind eye to facts, Centralia helped smooth the way for modern-day bigotry. It is a test case, illustrating how easily extremism can find a permanent home. Casting minority voices as outsiders provides a convenient scapegoat — a shared enemy to be feared and shunned and fought. And it reinforces just how true it is that history repeats itself.

*   *   *

TO A LOGGER standing in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1800s, the old-growth forests seemed so infinite, so vast, that only an act of God could obliterate them. The trees “will only be exhausted,” wrote Asa Mercer, who served in the Washington territorial government, in 1865, “when the mountains and the valley surrounding the (Puget) Sound are destroyed by some great calamity of nature.”  

Colonialism, it turned out, was that calamity. Local Indigenous people have always seen knobby Sitka spruce and moss-draped western red cedars as one part of an ecosystem that requires care from soil to canopy. For millennia, they have built longhouses and shaped canoes. Pre-colonialism, the Salish-speaking Upper and Lower Chehalis peoples thrived on the salmon where the Skookumchuck and Chehalis rivers converged. Settlers, however, viewed the forests through the lens of Manifest Destiny, and in the 1850s, they built logging towns on unceded land.

Timber was king in Washington, but loggers were dismissed as immigrants and low-class drifters.

A Black man named George Washington founded the town of Centerville. This was unusual in a region known for its whiteness. The adopted son of a white couple, he had worked as a logger, and timber was integral to Centerville, which was later named Centralia. When the railroad arrived, the city became a hub for both trees and trains; tracks were laid parallel to Tower Avenue, and people called it “Hub City.” 

Timber was king in Washington, but loggers were dismissed as immigrants and low-class drifters. “‘Law and order’ types criticized them as rude and turbulent, and hard to control,” according to a 1985 book about the burgeoning timber industry. 

It was dangerous work. In the early 1900s, an estimated one out of every 150 loggers who walked into the Northwest’s woods did not walk out: crushed by snags, mangled by mill machinery or smashed by a falling tree. By 1920, the Washington State Safety Board deemed logging “more deadly than war.”

Life in the timber camps was cold and wet. Bunkhouses were infested with lice; baths and toilets were often scarce. At the end of 10-hour workdays, rain-soaked loggers huddled around wood-burning stoves. And yet class divisions still found a home in the camps. The highest-paying jobs often went to white, Northern European loggers. In 1907, white workers walked off the job at a Chehalis River mill when four Japanese men were hired.

Timber executives dismissed loggers’ complaints about poor conditions. Workers, sniffed Edwin Ames, general manager of a major logging company and president of the West Coast Lumbermen’s Association, “all want rooms with bath, and Waldorf-Astoria fare.” 

The Industrial Workers of the World — “the Wobblies” — entered the scene in the early 1910s. Their project was radical, aiming to unite workers of every industry, race, gender and immigration status into “one big union.” They were unabashedly anti-capitalist; “Communists,” some called them. “A struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class,” read the preamble to the IWW Constitution, “take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.”

Mass arrests of Wobblies happened around the state. In 1916 in Everett, just north of Seattle, vigilantes and law enforcement opened fire on a steamship, killing five Wobblies. Several others drowned.

In 1917, the Northwest’s Wobblies called an all-out strike just as the country was entering the war, paralyzing the timber industry. As the main suppliers of Sitka spruce for American military airplanes, Washington lumber tycoons were forced to yield — but not before sowing rumors that the IWW was a violent force, out to destroy the industry. “There is no telling what they will resort to,” wrote George Long, the longtime general manager of the Weyerhaeuser Company, in a 1917 letter to another company executive.  

Some timber executives hired armed troops to guard their mills, but no Wobblies ever arrived. 

To ensure the military could get the supplies it needed, the federal government deployed 30,000 Army soldiers to work in Northwest logging and established the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, or the “4Ls.” According to retired historian Tom Copeland, the 4Ls were “a patriotic labor union that essentially said, ‘OK, everybody’s gonna sign up for this, and if you don’t sign up for this, you’re anti-American.’ 

In 1916 in Everett, just north of Seattle, vigilantes and law enforcement opened fire on a steamship, killing five Wobblies. Several others drowned.

By its actions, the government effectively split the loggers’ identity. Non-unionized loggers — the 4Ls — were no longer scorned as drifters and roustabouts, but celebrated as patriots assisting the war effort, while the IWW loggers were considered un-American and disloyal. The Oregonian branded them “worse enemies than the Germans.” 

On April 5, 1918, as a Red Cross fundraising parade wound through Centralia, a group of marchers broke away, smashing the windows of the IWW hall, dragging furniture into the street and burning it. Stunned Wobblies inside were hauled out and “dumped across the county line,” Copeland wrote in a book about Centralia, and “threatened with more serious harm if they dared return to Centralia.” The following day, the Centralia Chronicle excused the violence as an “orderly” raid by “determined citizens.” 

In early 1919, Washington state made it a felony to be a member of any group that had a mission of “sabotage, violence, or other unlawful methods of terrorism as a means to accomplishing industrial or political reform.” Those organizations, which included the IWW, were branded as “criminal syndicalist” groups — a law that remained until early 1937. That same year in Centralia, a “Citizen’s Protective Association” — essentially a militia — formed. It was led by a timber baron named F.B. Hubbard, president of the Eastern Railway and Timber Company.

*   *   *

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT set the stage for the next 100 years of extremism in the area. 

In 1919, a group men who served in World War I formed the American Legion. In the preamble to its Constitution, the group dedicated itself to maintaining law and order, “to make right the master of might” — a motto that reverberated for a century until a version of it landed on the Active Club’s shirts at Pride. Members swore “to foster and perpetuate a 100-percent Americanism.” At its first national convention, the Legion passed a resolution to “organize immediately for the purpose of meeting the insidious propaganda of Bolshevism, IWWism, radicalism, and all other anti-Americanism.”

Some Legion posts took this as permission for their members to take the law into their own hands, journalist Marcus Duffield reported in his 1931 book King Legion. At that time, the American Legion “wrapped its ideas of reactionism and nationalism in star-spangled bunting and labeled them patriotism.” 

A week before a parade of veterans was set to take place on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1919, the Wobblies posted flyers all over Centralia, asking for help, saying they feared “mob violence coming from the hands of the lumber barons.”

The Legion passed a resolution to “organize immediately for the purpose of meeting the insidious propaganda of Bolshevism, IWWism, radicalism, and all other anti-Americanism.”

“There are constant rumors,” the flyers read, “that we were to be mobbed, our property destroyed, and our hall closed.

“We implore the law-abiding citizens to prevent this. … We call upon you, each of you for the protection of our hall, our property — yes, even our very lives.” 

“They pleaded for the police, the public — anybody — to help,” Mike Garrison, a retired diesel technology instructor from Centralia College and a member of the IWW, said. “Everybody in town knew that it was coming.” But no one answered their call. 

That afternoon, the parade stopped in front of the IWW Hall. In an instant, several American Legionnaires split off from it, bashed through the door of the union hall and shattered its front window. 

This time, the Wobblies were ready to defend themselves. One of the first bullets ripped into the torso of a 31-year-old legionnaire named Warren Grimm; another went through Arthur McElfresh’s brain. He was 24. Ben Casagranda, 28, took a shot in the stomach.

The bullets fell like rain — from sentries in a nearby hotel window, from gunmen lying on a nearby hillside. In the chaos, a young Wobbly named Wesley Everest sprinted out the hall’s backdoor and down Centralia’s muddy alleys. The Legionnaires gave chase, dodging bullets that Everest shot wildly as he fled.

Everest’s flight ended at the Skookumchuck River — raging and too deep to cross. Ernest Dale Hubbard, the 29-year-old nephew of the anti-IWW timber baron F.B. Hubbard, ordered Everest to drop his gun, and pointed his own. Everest shot first.

Everest was thrown in jail alongside two dozen other Wobblies arrested at the union hall. Early that evening, Centralia’s power failed. In the darkness, a mob broke into the jail. They grabbed Everest, tied a rope around his neck and lynched him from a bridge over the Chehalis. No one was ever charged for the murder. 

Locals called the incident the “Centralia Massacre,” implying that the IWW had attacked the Legionnaires, and not acted in self-defense. “They want to make it sound like it was not planned,” Garrison explained. “‘Oh, it just happened spontaneously.’

“They did it in cold blood,” he said.

Locals called the incident the “Centralia Massacre,” implying that the IWW had attacked the Legionnaires, and not acted in self-defense.

In early 1920, seven of Centralia’s Wobblies were convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 to 40 years. That spring, arsonists burned the Centralia IWW Hall to the ground; no one was charged. 

In 1924, a committee erected “The Sentinel,” a 10-foot-tall statue honoring the four dead Legionnaires in Centralia’s George Washington Park. A World War I soldier stands atop a stone pedestal bearing the inscription: 

Slain on the streets of Centralia, Washington, Armistice Day Nov 11, 1919, while on peaceful parade, wearing the uniform of the country they loyally and faithfully served.

There is no mention of Everest, or his hanging; no mention that he acted in self-
defense.  The monument recast the American Legion’s violent nationalism as patriotism and erased the killing of someone they considered a bad American. 

Far-right groups over the next century took notice. Each one paved the way for the next, culminating in the appearance, in 2023, of the white supremacists at Pride. 

*   *   *

FIRST CAME THE KNIGHTS of the Ku Klux Klan. An estimated 35,000 attended a 1924 gathering at the area’s fairgrounds, where a Seattle judge opened with a speech called “America for Americans.” In 1927, the local newspaper reported two cross-burnings in the county. 

The Silver Shirts arrived in the 1930s, led by William Dudley Pelley, a rabidly antisemitic writer who believed America was a Christian nation and that Jews and Communist “Reds” were its twin enemies. In 1934, Pelley gave a speech to a crowded Centralia High School auditorium recalling the 1919 bloodshed, saying that the “Red Jewish” IWW “fired upon” war veterans during a peaceful, “patriotic march.” Afterward, he boasted that the local Silver Shirts chapter, in Chehalis, was the second-largest in the state.

“Fascism cannot be explained only in terms of fanaticism,” he said, “the history of the places where it gains a lodging must also be taken into account.”

In March 1939, LIFE Magazine published an article called “Fascism in America,” which highlighted the Chehalis Silver Shirts in a large black-and-white photo. Afterward, Robert Cantwell, a novelist who grew up in Lewis County, wrote to LIFE. “Fascism cannot be explained only in terms of fanaticism,” he said, “the history of the places where it gains a lodging must also be taken into account.”

Cantwell wrote that the November 1919 incident “stunted” Chehalis and Centralia’s political growth. “Fear of radicalism, hatred and fear of social changes, distrust of the working class” have plagued it ever since.  The ideologies morphed and shifted with each decade’s culture wars. “Communism” at first denoted anti-capitalist Wobblies, but by the 1930s, people like Pelley and the Silver Shirts had expanded the term to encompass Jews. With each decade, more groups of people were included. Communists were outsiders — and outsiders were enemies. 

In the 1960s, the John Birch Society — a conspiratorial far-right organization that stoked fears over Communism — capitalized on this. Local supporter Alfred Hamilton put a billboard just opposite his Chehalis area turkey farm to shout conspiracies at passing drivers on Interstate 5. 

A version of the sign remains. Known as “the Hamilton sign,” it features a cartoonish Uncle Sam with a continuously rotating message. “BE THANKFUL YOU LIVE IN AMERICA,” Uncle Sam said in the 1970s. “GUN CONTROL IS A STEP TOWARD ‘PEOPLE CONTROL.’” 

In every era, Hamilton’s sign reflected the shifting views of conservatives, hinting at which “outsiders” were most to be feared.

In the 1980 and ’90s, it was the LGBTQ community. The sign branded a nearby college as “HOME OF ENVIRONMENTAL TERRORISTS AND HOMOS,” and said the then-governor’s order banning discrimination against gay and lesbian state workers “SEEMS A LITTLE QUEER.”

“WHERE’S THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE?” it demanded during the Obama years.

By 2020, the sign was primed and ready for COVID conspiracies: “OH, NO! A VIRUS. QUICK – BURN THE BILL OF RIGHTS!” 

By then, Lewis County was no longer a logging hub; the main industries were education, health services and retail, and the Chehalis Walmart Supercenter had become one of the largest employers. On average, Lewis is poorer and whiter than the rest of the state. According to the 2020 Census, the per capita wage was $33,000, compared to nearly $50,000 statewide. More than 81% of the residents were white in the state that was 65% white.

“We have a lot of nationalist, Patriot-type people here,” Julie McDonald, a Chronicle columnist, told High Country News

In every era, Hamilton’s sign reflected the shifting views of conservatives, hinting at which “outsiders” were most to be feared.

That summer, when racial justice demonstrations catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd happened across the country, a few small Black Lives Matter protests took place in Lewis County. 

Meanwhile, rumors spread on social media about vans of black-clad anti-fascists coming to burn down small towns around the West — an echo of the warnings that the striking Wobblies would be violent. Armed citizens lined streets from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to Klamath Falls, Oregon. But just as the Wobblies never stormed timber operations, no anti-fascists ever appeared.

Lewis County’s rumors were more specific: The Hamilton sign was under attack. A hundred people congregated at the sign in response, mostly men in camouflage with holstered guns. Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza presided. He riled up the audience, speaking into a bullhorn about mask mandates. “Don’t be a sheep,” he said. People cheered. But again, no anti-fascists appeared.

*   *   *

BY THE FALL OF 2020, Kyle Wheeler, one of the Pride organizers, had spent his stimulus check on a triangle of blackberry-covered land with a stormwater pond near the Hamilton sign. He thought Lewis County needed a new narrative, so he towed a shipping container onto his new property and mounted a rainbow billboard on top: “LEWIS COUNTY WELCOMES EVERYONE,” it read. “Ultimately, Donald Trump bought me that,” he said.

“There’s a lot of people who are just sick of the Hamilton sign being claimed as speaking for Lewis County,” Wheeler, 35, said. He has gray-streaked black hair and tattoos. “I just want to be like the gay little nephew hanging over (Uncle Sam’s) shoulder at Thanksgiving dinner, just being like, ‘Sorry about our bigot uncle, but he doesn’t represent all of us.’”

His sign was smaller than the Hamilton sign and set back from the interstate. But before the sun was up the following morning, someone tore it down. Defiant, Wheeler climbed up onto the shipping container and put a Pride flag in its place. It was stolen. “I went back the next day and put two flags up,” he said. Those were torn down, too. “We got to the point where there was probably 13 or 14 of these PVC rainbow flags just lined up all the way down this property.” Eventually, he put up 11 birdhouses painted in the colors of the Transgender Pride flag. 

And Wheeler went further: He distributed 600 window signs with his billboard’s message throughout the county.

“There’s a lot of people who are just sick of the Hamilton sign being claimed as speaking for Lewis County.”

He printed up “Rural Americans Against Racism” signs, and distributed those, too. Local Republican Party members publicized a different sign: “Rural Americans Against Communism.” It seemed strange in the year 2020 to invoke Communism, but the word by that point signified any anti-American boogeyman, like a cuss word lumping together every outsider. The signs competed for attention from yards and roadsides.

Wheeler helped found the Lewis County Dignity Guild, which worked to increase the visibility of marginalized communities. But the group, like Wheeler’s sign, often felt out-shouted by the people in power. 

McDonald, the Chronicle columnist, said the local Republican Party had split into two factions in recent years. “The old guard got kind of booted out of the Republican Party by the new guard, which is more of the far, far right,” she said. 

Perhaps no one embodies that shift more than Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope. In 2021, he criticized gender pronouns during a commissioner’s meeting. “If I’m a man I can identify as a woman. Or I can identify as a goat. Or something else,” he said. Later, in a discussion of LGBTQ materials in a local library, the Chronicle reported Swope had posted on Facebook and mentioned “groomers” — a term the far right uses to demonize LGBTQ people, according to the ADL. 

During a 2022 land-use rezoning discussion over a proposed local YMCA camp, Swope turned the discussion toward critical race theory, defunding police and gender reassignment. (Swope did not reply to multiple requests for comment.)

When Kultur, the store affiliated with a whites-only religion, opened in the spring of 2023, Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston issued a statement: “Let me be crystal clear here,” she wrote on Facebook. “I oppose people and businesses that promote racist ideals. I invite you to do the same.”

“I’m not aware,” said Councilor Elizabeth Cameron, “that we have a white supremacy problem.”

Recently, Middlebury College’s Institute of International Studies released a report on the upcoming election, drawing particular attention to ways hateful ideas are mainstreamed through the words of elected officials and candidates. 

“For at least a brief period of recent American history, explicit racism had become unacceptable in public life,” wrote one researcher. But now, “politicians make statements that activate racial prejudice without necessarily making their audience aware of that.” 

The study warned that the election could see an uptick in “lawful extremism,” which it defined as when a government commits harmful acts or creates “legal permission structures for non-governmental actors to carry out harms.” 

“Lawful extremism has also led to government-sanctioned hostile action against LGBTQIA+ communities around the world,” it read.

In an interview with High Country News, Centralia Police Chief Denham said his department learned from the Evergreen Active Club’s presence at Pride and decried the Active Club. “Any time you have an ideology that any one race is better than another race, or sexual orientation, there’s always that hate that comes with it,” he said. “You never know how deep that ideology goes or how deep they’re willing to go to back up or reinforce it.” 

Yet he seemed unworried, saying there’d been no rise in white supremacist incidents in his jurisdiction. When asked about local hate crimes, he pivoted away from white supremacists. “We have (graffiti) around ‘brown pride’ — we get that a lot around town,” he said. “Would you associate that with a hate group? Some people do.”

Before June was over, a rainbow fence in Chehalis — the “Friendship Fence” — was splashed with black paint. A woodworking shop in the town of Morton, which adorned its windows with Pride flags and had a rainbow bench sitting out front, was vandalized, and its windows were shattered. The windows of the Dignity Guild office — which sponsored the fence and bench — were smashed, too.

“Every time we engage in anything, something happens,” Wheeler said. “We have to continue. It doesn’t get better if we don’t make it better.” 

Wheeler got word that hundreds of black-and-white posters with his face were distributed throughout the towns of Pe Ell and Mineral where LGBTQ events were scheduled. “Community Alert!” some read. “Child Groomers … Grown men seek to corrupt children under the rainbow flag!” At the bottom was Wheeler’s photo, labeled “Californian.”

“Every time we engage in anything, something happens,” Wheeler said. “We have to continue. It doesn’t get better if we don’t make it better.” 

In the aftermath of the tumultuous Pride festival, Usha Sahadeva-Brooks testified before the City Council about how scared she’d been when the Active Club appeared. By then, Sahadeva-Brooks, who is multi-ethnic, had been actively working to create visibility for county residents with diverse backgrounds. She is an administrator for a Facebook page called Multiculturally Minded Lewis County, which eventually started hosting in-person events. “There are Blacks in Lewis County,” she said. “There are Hispanics. There are Samoans, there are Fijians, there are West Africans and West Indians — all in Lewis County.”

When she spoke before the council, a Black resident sat next to her. “I’ve always been the minority,” Jim McCully, 69, said. Still, he calls himself a “glass-half-full” kind of guy. McCully was born in Pocatello, Idaho, and has lived in the Northwest most of his life. He said living in Centralia means constantly weighing how he is perceived, being careful of his body language.

“Always being a minority, you’re a novelty,” he said. “People are either curious, fearful, anxious, and sort of standoffish. 

“Until a person knows what they’re dealing with, I think it’s an arm’s-length attitude of ‘I don’t know you, I don’t want to know you if I don’t have to know you.’” 

The Hamilton sign, the white supremacists at Pride, the history of far-right groups here — “it all comes out being the same thing,” McCully said. “There are people that are out there that are not educated or even willing to go out and seek out the truth.”

*   *   *

IN 1997, AN ARTIST created a mural of Wesley Everest, the IWW member who was lynched in 1919, in Centralia. In the painting, Everest rises from his grave, fists raised, with timber barons hugging a bloated pig, symbolizing capitalism. “It will create trouble and hard feelings,” one man told a reporter. 

Chronicle letter writer admitted “I have no idea what actually happened” in 1919, but likened the mural to “a blatant display of bankrupt communist ideology.” 

Over time, though, the painting became harder to see. Construction of a rooftop patio obstructed everything but Everest’s head and fists. 

In 2018, 99 years after blood was spilled in Centralia’s streets, Mike Garrison, the IWW member, gathered two dozen people inside the local library.

In the painting, Everest rises from his grave, fists raised, with timber barons hugging a bloated pig, symbolizing capitalism.

With the 100-year anniversary of the incident coming up, Garrison — who has a gray beard and a long ponytail and walks with a hooked wooden cane — told the group it was time for the rest of the story to be told. Centralia had honored the four dead Legionnaires but had no official remembrance of the IWW. 

“The first thing I said is they should not use the ‘M’ word,” Garrison said. He proposed that people start calling it the “Centralia Tragedy” instead. People seemed receptive. 

But when Garrison and other IWW members proposed putting a plaque in the park next to the Sentinel statue, listing the IWW’s victims and the union logo, people worried it would draw anarchists. Garrison recalled one incident, years prior, when a man shouted he didn’t want to hear about the IWW and walked out of a meeting.

“These are people who have grown up with a hatred for the IWW in their blood,” Garrison said. 

Debate centered on whether acknowledgement of the IWW victims could be seen as civic endorsement of anti-capitalism. “You can make the argument that they aren’t really a labor organization,” Jay Hupp, a retired Navy veteran who grew up in Centralia and participated in the meetings, said. “What they are is a social movement.

“There are those that make the argument today, that the march toward Communism is alive and well in this country,” he said. It seemed like something the Hamilton sign might say.

At the meetings, Hupp suggested a monument that would tell a fuller story of what happened in 1919. He agreed with Garrison that the community needed to embrace the full history. But no one could agree on the wording.

“Communities develop habits just like people do,” Hupp said. “Not talking about the 1919 incident and wishing it would just go away is a habit of this community.” 

By 2019, the meetings ground to a halt. In her Chronicle column, McDonald criticized the attempts to undercut Garrison’s plaque, calling it “revisionist history at its worst.”

But Garrison persisted. By the fall of 2022, Centralia’s City Council and mayor voted unanimously in favor of putting a plaque next to the Sentinel. 

“UNION VICTIMS OF THE CENTRALIA TRAGEDY OF 1919” it read, listing the IWW men and their lawyer, and their fates: “Imprisoned 11 years,” “Imprisoned 19 years,” “Lynched,” “Died in prison,” “Disbarred.”


The dedication ceremony was held on the 104th anniversary. On an overcast day, a small crowd in rain jackets assembled on the leaf-strewn grass to listen to speeches and see how the old park will look with the new plaque. Afterward, Garrison took the plaque to a local monument company for storage until it could be affixed to a stone pedestal. By the spring of 2024, it still hadn’t been put in place.

“Not talking about the 1919 incident and wishing it would just go away is a habit of this community.” 

“I wasn’t happy with the dedication,” Garrison later said. No one from the city or county government came; Hupp watched from his car across the street. “To say, ‘Yes, you can have your memorial,’ and then act like nothing has happened is not ‘healing,’” he said. 

Correcting the record meant acknowledging all those who have been shut out, he said. 

As Pride month played out, Garrison and his wife, Mary, started to see the struggles of the local LGBTQ community and the vandalism of Wheeler’s signs as reflecting the flyers the IWW once posted: They’d called on the community to protect them, but no one had responded.

“Who is the bad guy?” Garrison asked. “Back (in 1919) it was unions. Today it’s LGBTQ and Black Lives.”

What was happening to the LGTBQ community felt like a new development in a fight that he’d been waging for years, and that his union had been waging for a century. The faces had changed, but the stakes hadn’t. Powerful people had once sown divisions among citizens here, and powerful people continued to. Blood was spilled when the city embraced violence.

“If there was a fight today,” Garrison said, “the people that would get hurt would be common people.”

*   *   *

JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, a 72-year-old man named Norman Lynn was returning home to Chehalis after playing a gig with his band, Rock City. As he drove, his headlights lit up the shadows of three masked people in black allegedly blasting paint across the rainbow Friendship Fence. He flicked on his high beams, called 911, and “I told them to get the F out of there,” he said. 

The three figures ducked into an alleyway. Lynn followed. They sped away in a Subaru wagon. Lynn gave chase. 

He wanted to get their license plate. The Subaru got on I-5; Lynn followed. In his 1990s Ford minivan, Lynn pushed the gas until the speedometer trembled near 90 mph. In Centralia, police pulled the Subaru over. Lynn figured his work was done, drove home and went to bed. 

Two of the men accused of vandalizing the fence were Washington residents — one was from Centralia — who were affiliated with the white nationalist group Patriot Front.

The next day, he read The Chronicle. Two of the men accused of vandalizing the fence were Washington residents — one was from Centralia — who were affiliated with the white nationalist group Patriot Front. Inside the car, in addition to a can of black paint and paint-stained gloves, the police arrest report depicted images of stickers and flyers for Patriot Front, as well as handbills that read “stand up white man” and a banner reading “RETURN TO MEXICO.” The two people from Washington were arrested and posted $20,000 bail through bondsmen.

The third person arrested was a 25-year-old from Idaho; in paperwork filed with the Lewis County Superior Court, he listed the address for Kultur — the Tower Avenue music store — as his own. Bail receipts show that an alleged Evergreen Active Club organizer and a local leader of the whites-only religion posted $20,000 in cash for him. 

“My initial thought was that they were just young punks,” Lynn said. “Then I read the article and thought, ‘This is a bigger thing than a teenage prank.’”

Lynn wanted to see the alleged vandals unmasked. On Feb. 29, a typically dreary winter afternoon, he sat on a long wooden bench outside the courtroom at the Lewis County Law and Justice Center. The three would be arraigned on charges of a hate crime and a second-degree malicious mischief, which could carry a sentence of up to ten years in prison. 

Mike and Mary Garrison sat down next to Lynn. “I want to shake your hand,” Mary said, and offered hers.

The courtroom filled with familiar faces. The owner of the Friendship fence was there, and the woman who twerked the white supremacist away at Pride. Jim McCully sat near members of the Dignity Guild. “Am I surprised?” McCully said of the incident. “Not really.” He wanted to hear what the judge said about the alleged vandals. “You can get judges that may be sympathetic to the cause.” 

Kyle Wheeler was there, too. 

Before the hearing, Wheeler said he admired Garrison for the way he pushed Centralia to see the truth of its past — to look at itself in the mirror.

“Mike’s probably talked to me a couple of times the last year about the specific similarities of the way things went for the Wobblies and the way things are going for me,” he said. “It’s just a matter of history repeating itself and people not realizing it.” 

Garrison’s attempt to correct the historical narrative was also cautionary: Wheeler wasn’t just creating visibility for marginalized people in Lewis County, he was making sure that history didn’t forget them, didn’t brush them off as a nuisance. “There’s a lot of people being like, ‘Oh, maybe it’s not just crazy Kyle being crazy Kyle. Maybe there is a level of validity there, and maybe we should look at it from this other perspective,” he said.  

On the day of the arraignment, Wheeler tromped across his property carrying a metal flagpole. Uncle Sam shouted nonsensically from the nearby Hamilton sign: “NO ONE DIED IN WW2 SO YOU COULD SHOW PAPERS TO BUY FOOD!” 

“It’s just a matter of history repeating itself and people not realizing it.”

The blackberries on Wheeler’s land had been cut back, and the stormwater pond filled in the pouring rain. A sign reading “Love Thy Neighbor” floated in the water, cast away like trash. 

The 11 birdhouses on his property had been smashed to pieces. Some were lying on the ground, others tossed over the Hamilton property line. Wheeler heard that they had been destroyed the same night the rainbow fence was vandalized. 

He planted the pole in the ground and fixed a new Pride flag to it, squinting into the rain as he slowly raised it overhead.

“I’d like to say that I could see it staying up over the weekend,” he said. “But I don’t have a level of confidence in that either.”   

This article appeared in the June 2024 print edition of the magazine with the headline “The Tragedy of Centralia.”

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